Continuous Improvement Projects: Expectations and Reflection

Continuous Improvement Projects: Expectations and Reflection

Boiled eggs. Boiling time from left to right: ... Image via Wikipedia

It never fails to amaze me how simple an idea can be, yet how difficult it can be to actually implement. I’m sure everyone can think about at least one task they’ve chosen to assume, assuming the reward would require little work and result in an impressive payout. Think about how many times you’ve tried to recreate a recipe from a “simple” cookbook, only to find that you’ve made something you’re convinced is edible, but wouldn’t dare serve to your friends. No matter how many times I try to hard boil an egg, I still can’t seem to get the timing right so I can peel the shell in less than five minutes.

This notion of a project being simple in concept yet difficult in practice is nothing new to the warriors in the lean trenches.


From being a warrior in the trenches for the better part of a decade, I’ve learned the importance of setting expectations prior to executing a plan. How would you know if you’ve succeeded, if you don’t know what to expect when your execution is complete? If I held the expectation of it being typical to spend more time peeling a hard-boiled egg than actually eating it, I’d consider my own eggs a success. In my career experience with launching several projects, I can say all those that allowed for successful problem solving had very clear expectations. Below are some things to keep in mind for setting expectations:

1. Use a project management tool (i.e. the Gantt Chart). There should be a manageable, prioritized list of tasks and a roll-out schedule. This document will provide visibility to what exactly will happen, when it will happen.

2. Establish targets. (i.e. "This project will produce x results over x amount of time.")

3. Review the plan on a regular basis. Don’t wait until the reflection period to review if the plan is headed down the right course.

4. Clearly and visually communicate the plan. Ensure all affected parties have visibility to what's expected of them, their involvement, and impending changes.

5. Form a contingency plan. What will you do if your project has a negative outcome?


It’s typical for plans to require adjustment after reflecting upon the success of the implementation. It seems that most unsuccessful projects are a result of not following up (or check-adjusting) upon completing implementation. Often times the project can lose steam after it’s been initially rolled out (when this is the most important time to focus on the improvement). A very simple (yet often inadvertently ignored) model for continuous improvement is the Plan Do Check Adjust model (or PDCA). Checking to see how our rollout has (or hasn’t) met expectations will allow us to adjust the plan to account for any gaps that may exist in the results. The great thing about this concept is that it's a continuously revolving practice that can be repeatedly applied. After all, good enough should never be good enough - "no problem is a problem." Below are some tips for reflecting upon a project implementation.

1. Conduct the reflection at an appropriate time. Has the project had adequate time to run its course and have an impact?

2. Take time to study the data and make an assessment about whether you achieved what you originally planned to accomplish. It’s important to ensure you’re reflecting on objective data, rather than perceived results.

3. Reflect upon what has worked and not worked with the plan. Did it meet the desired results? Adjust your thinking and actions for the future. This part of the reflection is the critical step in the process where you determine if your plan is working correctly or if changes are necessary.

4. If change is necessary, will the impact of the required change outweigh the benefit? In other words, based on your original expectations, is the plan in its revised state still a viable solution?

5. Share best practices. Take advantage of key lessons learned and make conscious steps toward sharing this with your colleagues. This sharing will ensure that dreaded “tribal knowledge” doesn’t exist among your organization or group.

Being comfortable with the status quo is not a characteristic of a lean warrior. Have you set clear expectations for your projects in the workplace? Have you gone back to reflect on results?

Written by Kevin Gross, Team Leader - Lean Logistics at LeanCor

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Posted by LeanCor Supply Chain Group

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LeanCor Supply Chain Group is a trusted supply chain partner that specializes in lean principles to deliver operational improvement. LeanCor’s three integrated divisions – LeanCor Training and Education, LeanCor Consulting, and LeanCor Logistics – help organizations eliminate waste, drive down costs, and build a culture of continuous improvement.

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